In response to the exclusive interview granted The Metro Lawyer by Mr Abdul Atadoga Ibrahim, SAN (Read here) wherein the learned silk broke his silence on the circumstances surrounding the leadership crisis which has engulfed the Unity Bar of the NBA, Mr Ezenwa Anumnu, protagonist and Chairman of a faction of the Unity Bar has, in a statement sent to TML news desk, responded to issues raised by Mr Ibrahim in the interview.
Below is the unedited statement…
1. My attention has drawn to the interview granted by my friend and learned senior Abdul Ibrahim SAN. My initial reaction was to ignore it as I have long resolved to only lay the facts as they are and not to join issues with any member of the bar on the issue of chairmanship of the Unity Bar since the case is in court. The branch has since moved on and now focused on professionalizing the bar, empowering lawyers to earn better and be more competitive, building capacities enhancing proficiencies, match-making professionals, providing free health insurance cover, (as much as 200 members of the branch now have access to FREE and comprehensive healthcare), Unity Bar Resource Centre at the verge of being commissioned to provide research facilities for reposition us as the foremost knowledge Bar in Africa, providing networking opportunities for members, employment for young lawyers under the young lawyers training and employment scheme (YoLTES) and placing them in relevant institutions throughout the Federal Capital for initial pupilage and giving them the opportunity to be retained thereafter. Above all, being accountable to the Branch for the responsibility of leadership placed upon our shoulders notwithstanding the fact that we still do not have access to any of the Branch accounts that we inherited upon assumption of office. You will agree with me that these are unprecedented achievements and this is our narrative not who said what to whom, where and how. We have a superior value proposition, and will never submit to anything less. If you have a better idea that will benefit lawyers, you are free to bring it on board. It is all about using the NBA for tangible, measurable and verifiable benefits to individual lawyers in the branch and our records speak for themselves. If anyone wants to dwell on other issues, well, good luck to them but we will not be distracted nor deterred. On a personal note, Abdul Ibrahim SAN is not answerable to me in the way and manner he conducted the purported branch elections, I have learned a lot from seniors like him and I continue to learn everyday I believe he is a good Muslim and he is answerable to only to Allah and in the last day Allah will reward him accordingly. Mohammed Al Bana a servant of Allah once said to the Muslim Ummah in Egypt in 1921, ‘he is blessed whether Prince or Pauper who finds peace with Allah”.
However since words like brigandage and banditry were freely used on fellow colleagues, I am compelled only to put some facts straight and speak the truth. One thing about that inconvenient truth is, there is no synonym for the truth. Truth is truth. I will not join issue with him but will lay bare the facts for all to see where the unbridled meddling and pathological desperation he claimed existed. Perhaps he does not know this, but to turn aside justice due to a man or to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve. Lamentations 3:35 & 36.
2. The genesis of the crisis not unconnected with Abdul Ibrahim (SAN) vow (boast) shortly after being appointed by Elachi Agada into the Election committee of the Branch to disqualify Ezenwa Anumnu and IBB Benede (Miss) even before the call for nominations and he broached this ideal to and sought the buy in of a highly respected senior member of the Branch, who responded that if they duo of Ezenwa and IBB have done anything to warrant their disqualification he is well within his rights to do so. It is important to note that the byelaw provides for appointment of the election committee by the branch in a general meeting and not singlehandedly by the Chairman as Agada Elachi who read out the names did at the branch meeting of May 2016 and all protests against this violation fell on deaf ears. The former Chair was apparently livid as his tenure was truncated by the coming of the new constitution and bye laws but same affected about 76 other branch out of the 120 branches. Abdul Ibrahim subsequently carried out this threat as soon as he saw what seemed to be an opportunity. At any rate, he was later confronted by these sets of facts at a meeting of some senior members of the Branch presided by Ikechukwu Ezechukwu SAN in his office shortly after the elections which had in attendance P.O Okolo (SAN), Dele Oye, Patrick Ediale Ibrahim Eddy Mark, Muyiwa Akinboro (SAN), Kola Omotinugbo, Afam Osigwe, Steve Emelieze etc and which the candidates to the election were invited. His response was that he made the statement only in respect of IBB Benebe Miss and not Ezenwa Anumnu. I challenge my friend and learned senior, Abdul Ibrahim SAN as a good muslim to swear by the Holy Koran in the presence of an Imam that he did not call out a past chairman in the branch after his appointment into Electoral committee at Cubana Lounge in Wuse 2 and vowed to disqualify Ezenwa Anumnu if he picks up the nomination form.
3. In line with his vow, he guided the process at every turn to achieve this aim, which probably led to the apparent frustration and resignation of the Chairman Ola Olanipekun SAN. He initially qualified Afam Okeke and Victor Abasiakan Ekim who were not eligible to contest, somehow Chinedu Obienu’s name mysteriously surfaced after the close of nomination, Victor Abasiakan Ekim name also mysteriously appeared in the Branch attendance register in their custody. After close of nomination, one Prince Adesotoye was qualified notwithstanding he has not, at the time in question reached the minimum 8 years post call requirement for the post.
It may interest you to know that the learned Silk is standing as a defendant in his personal capacity in a suit FCT/CV/41/2016 filed by Mr. Izy Nwaiwu questioning the general conduct of the elections in which unqualified persons participated. The case is presently in Justice Jude Okeke’s court, I am not sure the learned Silk has been able to respond to the case yet, but he is more comfortable going to social media to discuss a matter that is sub-judice as if he is not aware of the pendency of the suit. I hope this brings it to his attention. With respect to me, he now claims he ACTED on a letter by the Branch Election Monitoring Committee (which did not refer to NBA Abuja but to a scenario in Ikeja Branch) to disqualify me but REFUSED to act on a subsequent letter the same Branch Election Monitoring Committee clarifying the position and which directly refers to NBA Abuja to restore me in the election. It seemed like a game of pick and choose what to obey and what not to. He further claimed that he did not see any letter till date. That may not be the true position. I know of a fact that the letter was sent to the Election Committee Chair, Ola Olanipekun SAN and copied to then Branch Chair, Elachi Agada and others via email days before the election giving them an opportunity to respond which they failed, refused or neglected to respond to. It is only these persons that can deny this not Abdul as he had not assumed Chairmanship of the Committee at that point. However when Ola Olanipekun SAN was eventually forced out and Abdul Ibrahim assumed Chair of the Committee, a physical copy of the letter from the Branch Election Monitoring Committee was shown to him and Chief Ikechukwu Ezechukwu (SAN) first a few days before the election and again in the morning of the election, 13th June 2016 by the team from Branch Election Monitoring Committee consisting of Mr. Obi Anozie of Kaduna Branch and Chief Ogbonnaya Igwenyi (both men are still alive today) who physically presented the letter to both Abdul Ibrahim SAN and Ikechukwu Ezechukwu SAN and urged him to comply with the directive and return me to the ballot. Mr. Ibrahim was reported to have said that ‘his decision was final and nobody can direct my committee’ while Chief Ezechukwu was quoted that ‘we cannot allow Ezenwa run in the election as I fear he will beat Victor Abasiakan Ekim our candidate’. Chief Ezechukwu SAN later admitted that the letter was presented to them on the morning of the election in another meeting of the members of the Branch with the President in the National Office. Recall Victor only attended 3 branch meetings never met the minimum attendance of as to meetings (5 meetings) as the minutes of the meetings were circulated online to members email but was goaded into claiming the Chairmanship by vested interest in the Branch. The physical register of the branch was doctored and is at variance the minutes of the meeting and there is no record of him realizing an objection in a subsequent meeting that his name was omitted. Mr. Abasiakan Ekim has previously told Chief Emeka Obegolu and I earlier on in 2016 that he was now spending quite some time abroad as he was at the verge of relocating his family, I even inquired from him how he will cope with the high cost of keeping two homes, we said he will do some form of trading and car importation in between. Perhaps that was the reason for his poor attendance to meetings. I challenge my friend and learned senior Abdul Ibrahim SAN as a good Muslim to swear by the Holy Koran in the presence of an Iman that he did not see the letter prior to the election.
4. In his interview, Mr. Ibrahim SAN alleged that I was disqualified as one of my nominees, Betty Umegbulam must be as qualified to run for office as the person standing for office. With due respect, this is not the true interpretation of the section as the constitution was clear on qualification on one hand and eligibility to run on the other hand and this was clearly buttressed in that Mr. AB Mahmud SAN who is the president of the association was nominated by Funke Adekoya SAN who by the clear provision of the constitution is not from the north where the presidency is currently zoned and could have stood for election. We are all aware that the Presidency was zoned to the north and Mrs Adekoya is from the western part of the country and is not eligible to run for president at this time. If Abdul SAN’s interpretation is the true and prescient of the sections, Mr. Mahmud SAN would have been disqualified just as he purportedly disqualified me but this is not the case.
5. I never accused Kanu Agabi of bias, in fact Kanu Agabi was the very first person to support me and gave me N1m to host the branch meeting as evidenced in our annual financial reports presented at the branch meeting. Even before now he has always supported our Section on Business Law (SBL) Committee programs with his presence and financially and a Bar leader that I have tremendous respect for up till today but the law provides for likelihood of bias and I only appealed that he recuse himself from sitting over issues already resolved by the AGM as a committee cannot reverse the AGM decision (S. 5 makes the AGM the highest decision making body of the Association) and as he had inadvertently taken a position through certain actions of his like apologizing a parallel illegal branch meeting in July 2016 and speaking through his head of Chambers that I misled him into believing I was Chairman not knowing that Victor was Chairman, his committee unilaterally extending the terms of reference to include taking over the management of the Branch (same was not contained in the original terms of reference of the committee which I was in copy of), calling me twice to his office immediately after his appointment and demanding my resignation as Chairman, using the word NEC appointed to refer to my exco etc. You see, I have the utmost respect for the learned silk but I didn’t believe it was likely I will get a fair hearing in this matter from the committee and that is the basis of my reservation about appearing before the committee besides that there is an AGM decision on the matter. The question is can the 3 man reconciliation committee alter the decision of the AGM? What will be the consequence of altering the AGM by the committee? I am sure that the committee would not have reached any conclusion if they knew that Victor did not make the mandatory 5 meetings.
Finally let me state that my only fear is when I see senior lawyers encouraging younger ones to flout AGM Resolutions and valid and subsisting Court Injunction as this portends great danger not only to the profession but to the country, there is no justifiable reason for a lawyer should not obey court injunction as the one granted with respect to this case. The court in its wisdom has set aside the Aba NEC decision of March 2017 which was taken while the cases was pending and aimed at over-reaching the courts but yet a handful of lawyers are flagrantly disobeying same. We should not encourage lawyers to break into the branch secretariat and fight fellow colleagues over such issues. Before now a particular senior member has been a permanent fixture in Branch Election Committee year after year, is there a pecuniary interest in this particular service, does he lobby to get the appointment or are there not other capable hands in the branch? I think our only offence is that we stood up to the bullies in the branch and insisted as lawyers we must obey constituted authority, the coming of the 2015 Constitution and Bye law truncated the tenure of the exco in 76 branches out of about 120 branches, Unity Bar is not a peculiar. The then National Exco did not interfere with Unity bar in anyway. We must uphold constitutional discipline in the association if not NBA will be perceived as lawless organisation.